Febuary 2012

Senior Slant:

The Thin Man
in the Back Room

by Hilda Maston

Tony and Catherine Piazza were my landlord and landlady. Since their boys were away in the Army, they rented a room to my roommate, Mabel Gillingham, and me.

Rooms were hard to find in the crowded university town of Madison, Wisconsin. Our room was ideal for us because it was close to the University of Wisconsin, where we worked.

Tony was a man of many talents; he played the French horn, listened to opera, made wonderful wine, cooked great Italian dishes and fashioned handmade prescription shoes in his shop.

Mama Piazza (Catherine) was a lovely, warm-hearted lady. She loved her house and her family, and had very traditional values. She was, at heart, a matchmaker.

One day when Gilly (Mabel) and I were in the kitchen having coffee, Catherine told us she had rented the back room to a student. “A nice man, but very thin,” she said. “You girls should invite him for coffee and pastries.”

We agreed, and the next day I rapped on his door and asked him to join us. He accepted and had coffee with us nearly every day during our break times.

We talked and talked. We found out his name was Tom, that he had been shot down over Germany during the war, and had spent almost three years in German POW camps.

Gilly and I told him of our service in the Badger Ordinance Powder Plant, where we were employed during the war, making rocket fuel.

Often our conversation turned to books. We found that we shared many likes and dislikes. Many times, I left a favorite book at his door and we discussed it at length during our coffee breaks.

Catherine approved of our treatment of the “thin, young man” and often added home-made treats to our coffee hour to “fatten him up.”

Catherine was an old-fashioned lady who had been in the U.S. for many years. She still had a hard time with the English language, but not with proper English customs. Whenever Gilly or I entertained a gentleman caller, Mama Piazza would hover in the background, never getting too far away. If the hapless caller stayed much after 10 pm, she would hand him his hat and show him the door, telling him that Gilly or I had to get up very early the next day to go to work.

Tom and Hilda Maston, with Aiya's big brother Hank Finally, the “thin, young man” in the back room asked me for a date. Catherine approved, but when we spent the evening at home, she would not retire until we had both gone to our respective rooms.

She was overjoyed when we announced our engagement, and I wore her favorite brooch as “something borrowed” on my wedding day.

Tony and Catherine were a wonderful influence on our young lives. They brought about a marriage that lasted 37 happy years.

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